Javadekar supports changes to TRAI tariff order

The recent changes made to the TV channel pricing rules of India by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to the tariff order on January 1 are targeted at dealing with the problems faced by the consumer and balancing the interests of various industry participants, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said today.

The changes were made “to address the teething issues faced by the consumers, while balancing the interests of broadcasters as-well-as the Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) to create a level playing field,” Javadekar told the Lok Sabha today after a member sought details of the new tariff plan from TRAI.

The comments come in the wake of multiple legal challenges to the new tariff order.

While various broadcasters, including Star India and Zee, have challenged the rules in the Bombay High Court under the leadership of India Broadcasting Foundation, Sun Networks has challenged it in Madras High Court.

In addition, an association of cable feed providers (MSOs) has challenged the new rules in Kerala High Court.

The High Courts have asked the information & broadcasting ministry to give its inputs, as they prepare to hear the challenges.

Javadekar’s response in the parliament today is the first official statement by the I&B ministry on the amendments carried out by the TRAI on January 1, and indicate that the government is fully supportive of the regulator’s move.

The statement also indicates the line that the I&B ministry is likely to take in its response to various petitions filed by broadcasters.

TRAI too has justified the changes — which include a provision that prohibits costly channels from being made part of channel packs — by claiming that broadcasters have misused the freedom given by the regulator last year.

“These steps become necessary to curb misuse of pricing facility by few broadcasters. It is important to mention here that after implementation of the new tariff order [in 2019], some broadcasters enhanced their channel prices drastically, which in large number of cases were more than 100%,” it said recently.

“Such price increase is anti-consumer and forces regulatory interventions. TRAI believes that transparent mechanism needs to be adopted to encourage market discovery of channel price, but any attempt to scuttle consumer choice either through nontransparent pricing practices or other similar means need to be discouraged.”

Besides consumer interest, TRAI has also tried to justify its new tweaks by pointing to the interests of small broadcasters as well to the interest of cable and DTH players.

The matter will be taken up by the Bombay High Court for hearing on Wednesday.